Communities

Trump's racist campaign ad will look and sound familiar to students of history.

by Rachel Reilich

November 2, 2018


In the immediate wake of Donald Trump’s horrific TV ad today, which juxtaposes footage of Luis Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant completely unrepentant for murdering two policemen, with the so-called “migrant caravan,” I thought of this quote by Anne Frank:


“The war isn’t even over, and already there’s dissension and Jews are regarded as lesser beings. Oh, it’s sad, very sad that the old adage has been confirmed for the umpteenth time: "What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does reflects on all Jews."

I would advise anyone even remotely persuaded by Trump’s propaganda to play a game of Mad Libs: Bigotry Edition. 
How to play: Take this quote, written by a victim of the Holocaust, replace the word “Jew” with “Illegal Immigrant,” and then ask yourself: is this ad participating in the same line of thinking that facilitated the murder of six million people? 


Because that’s what Trump is doing, here. He shows one illegal immigrant—a glee-filled sociopath—and immediately cuts to a crowd. The camera follows the crowd at a distance, from behind, so the viewer sees only the backs of heads. No one has a face. These are not individuals with their own unique histories, differences, and inner worlds, but herd animals, an insect swarm, the zombie horde: they exist en masse. The behavior of one, is the behavior of all. 


In film, special effects editors create enormous crowd scenes through a technique called “crowd duplication,” in which they film a handful of extras, and essentially “cut and paste” until the few transform to multitudes, filling the frame. 


It’s an apt metaphor for what Trump attempts here—the camera gives us a lingering close-up of one terrifying person, and then quickly cuts to a raucous crowd, leaving the viewer to reflexively “cut-and-paste” the one face we are given—Luis Bracamontes, conveniently adorned with a devil’s goatee—over and over. 


What’s more, the crowd appears to be a happy one—we hear cheerful hollers, the repeated blast of an air horn. But this comes right on the heels of Bracamontes, smiling unrelentingly as he brags about his crimes—in this context, their glee reads as menace. Clearly, their joy and Bracamontes’s are meant to share the same source: a psychotic pride in their capacity for evil. And just to add an extra layer of xenophobic flavor, their cheers are mingled with the sound of tribal drums.

What one illegal immigrant does, this ad tells us, reflects on all illegal immigrants. 


How does Trump square “honoring” 11 people who died at the hands of an antisemite, with an ad that capitalizes on the same kind of thinking? 


In the mind of their murderer, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger were not individuals. They were “Jews.” Interchangeable figures in a faceless crowd. A bogeyman he cut-and-paste and cut-and-paste until they filled the screen. 

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Trump's racist campaign ad will look and sound familiar to students of history.